Sargassum Blooms Plague Mexican Beaches, Affecting Tourism

How Sargassum Can Be Stopped Before It Reaches the Shore

Masses of sargassum are washing up on Caribbean beaches, hurting tourism, ravaging ecosystems, and overwhelming beaches. In Cancún, previously pristine beaches are covered in the large brown seaweed that usually floats in the ocean.

So, what can be done?

The first step in controlling sargassum is to understand where it is coming from, why the bloom is so large, and how to prevent it from coming ashore to rot.

Predicting Sargassum Blooms

As sargassum blooms and creeps toward shorelines, it’s only natural to wonder how much will be coming in the next few months.

The University of South Florida Optical Oceanography Lab’s Satellite-based Sargassum Watch System (SaWS) offers insight into how much, where, and when the sargassum is coming. This program uses satellite data and numerical models to detect and track sargassum as it moves.

SaWS recently released its sargassum outlookbulletin for June and some information about the coming months. The bulletin confirmed the high amount of sargassum beaching in the Caribbean, as well as large amounts in the central west Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

While the estimated sargassum this year is less than was recorded in 2018, which saw more than 20 million metric tons, the total estimated amount this year is supposed to be greater than 10 million metric tons, which is greater than 2015’s sargassum conditions.

Sargassum Watch System at a Glance:
  • Large amounts of sargassum are predicted for July and August in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
  • This year’s sargassum bloom is the second highest recorded year for the same month.
  • Total estimated amount of sargassum is greater than 10 million metric tons so far this year.
The exact amount of sargassum present on beaches will be determined by ocean tides, circulations, and winds. As mentioned above, the sargassum watch system is an estimation, not a direct prediction.

Caribbean Beaches Struggling with Sargassum

Recently, Mexico enlisted  its Navy to remove the sargassum from some of its beaches and water using heavy machinery. The government hoped this would be cost-efficient, but despite its best efforts the problem may have only gotten worse.

Because of this intense sargassum build-up in the Caribbean, representatives from several countries gathered on June 27 in Cancún to discuss strategies to combat sargassum on Caribbean beaches.

Some of the Caribbean countries in attendance:
  • Mexico
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Jamaica
  • Trinidad and Tobago
Officials met not to solve the sargassum problem outright, but to collaborate between each other to better coordinate solutions. Some of those solutions included supporting extra research into the sargassum bloom and developing a warning system similar to ones we have for other natural phenomena.

Typical, But Ineffective, Methods of Sargassum Control

A typical method of sargassum control is to remove it directly from the beaches, but this has its problems. Simply removing the sargassum from the Caribbean shorelines, either by hand or with costly equipment that needs to be maintained, is a tedious, short-term task, rather than a long-term solution. 

When you remove it from the beach, you must have a designated area, away from the public, where you can dispose of it due to its corrosive, toxic nature when it decomposes.

Rotting sargassum problems:
  • Emits toxic, corrosive gas
  • Attracts invasive insects
  • Destabilizes beaches, causing erosion
Unlike other sargassum clean-up methods, a floating containment boom can last awhile and doesn’t require multiple clean-up attempts. This solution meets the sargassum where it exists—in the water.

A Good Solution:Stop Sargassum from Coming Onshore

An effective solution for sargassum control is to stop it while it is still mobile and floating in the water.

Sargassum floats because its berry-like pneumatocysts are filled with air and provide buoyancy on the surface of the water in rafts. Floating rafts of sargassum provide needed habitats for fish, turtles, crabs, and birds.

Sargassum itself is not bad, but problems arise when it grows at an exponential rate as a result of nutrient-rich waters from fertilizer runoff and pollution. If the sargassum is creeping onshore in exponential amounts before it can sink, containing it away from shore is the best solution. 

Cost effective solutions to controlling sargassum include using a floating containment boom, also called a floating barrier. These floating barriers contain:
  • Trash
  • Debris
  • Seaweed
Using a permanent barrier, that won’t allow sargassum to wash over it and requires minimal attention, will keep more sargassum away from the shore for a longer period of time. A permanent barrier is a great solutionfor resorts and hotels, who want to keep their beachfronts clean for guests and swimmers.

Keeping the beaches clean is essential for hotels and businesses around Quintana Roo and Playa del Carmen to survive. For Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Tulum, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres, tourism is at stake with the invasion of sargassum.

Floating Seaweed Barrier

The benefits of a floating seaweed barrier are abundant. For one, they keep sargassum away from beach goers. Once installed, floating barriers need inspections twice a week or after intense weather. 

As sargassum is contained in the barrier, the beach stays clean, and the need for widespread cleanup is eliminated.

Working to remove sargassum from pristine beaches, and ensuring that it doesn’t come back, requires the right tools. The Orion Aquatic Plantand Containment Boom from GEI Works deflects and diverts sargassum from shorelines all while effectively containing it.

Inspect your sargassum containment boom to make sure that is performing at its highest level. Twice a week, check the boom, connections, lines, and buoys for functionality. Also, remove any build-up of sargassum that could threaten the boom.

The best practices for keeping and maintaininga sargassum containment boom can be simple.

Contact GEI Works to receive help and to discuss your sargassum issues at +1-772-646-0597.

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